Pen and Ink Art Translations

19th-Century Criticism

From a summary of an assessment of painter and sculptor Paul-Albert Bartholomé’s work by his contemporary Jacques-Emile Blanche

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I met Bartholomé the first time I went to Degas’s house. Degas teased him by saying that he was born for politics. Degas: “Do you know his little girls dancing in a circle in the schoolyard? A flat painting; I like its design. A pretty painting. Monsieur Bartholomé only did one thing wrong: he showed it at the salon.”

I remember Madame Bartholomé playing piano and singing at their house. They had weekly dinners with artists and writers. Raffaelli was part of the Impressionist group with whom Bartholomé could have shown his work. Probably other ambitions, which Degas suspected, kept him from doing this. But I would have thought that it was just a sentiment of modesty, “for his works seemed to me to be those of an intelligent apprentice, nothing more.”

A “dry and cold portrait” of his wife and another of his father – both plein-air paintings – and the Ronde des pensionnaires decorated the living room. He adored his wife Péri, and this made me fear for him. What would happen to him if this dear creature, whom he cared for and served, were to die before him? Sometimes we couldn’t go to his house for months because she was ill.

Was it then that the couple went to Africa? I have letters from Bartholomé from Algeria, undated, in which gave me advice, seeing himself, generously but rather arrogantly, as a substitute for Degas, since I was a beginner. He told me to sketch constantly, not to paint from nature. When he came back to Paris, he had me show him my work, which he critiqued. While I appreciated his concern, I felt intimidated around him, even though I didn’t really admire his art. He produced little, and what he made was enveloped in a confusing mystery.

A devoted wife, Madame Bartholomé welcomed the commoners, bohemians, and intellectuals who were her guests.

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Bartholomé seemed to lead two lives: that of a craftsman, coarse and unassuming, and that of the knight of a great lady.

Raffaelli and Degas had a falling-out.

Bartholomé was devastated by his wife’s death. For months, for years, he would not sleep in his lonely bed. We heard that he was working on something in his studio alone at night, and that he was wasting away. Only Degas knew what was going on. Finally we learned that he had made a statue of a husband and wife for the cemetery of Crépy-en-Valois. This work had saved him from suicide. But what would happen once it was completed? Degas had a plan, to give him work to do. Degas saved him by giving him a new career.

Death seemed to have brought out the best in his art. He seemed to have risen from the dead. He had visitors again, from time to time, but only two or three at a time now.

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Analysis of his sculptural abilities. His sculptures were universally admired. Some of us still saw in his sculptures the same uncertainty of design as in the Ronde des pensionnaires, a lack of depth.

–Jacques-Emile Blanche